Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE philosophers, as you know, call God the First Cause (in Hebrew ‘illah and sibbah): but those who are known by the name of Mutakallemim are very much opposed to the use of that name, and call Him Agens, believing that there is a great difference whether we say that God is the Cause or that He is the Agens. They argue thus: If we say that God is the Cause, the coexistence of the Cause with that which was produced by that Cause would necessarily be implied: this again would involve the belief that the Universe was eternal, and that it was inseparable from God. When, however, we say that God is the Agens, the co-existence of the Agens with its product is not implied: for the agens can exist anterior to its product: we cannot even imagine how an agens can be in action unless it existed before its own production. This is an argument advanced by persons who do not distinguish between the potential and the actual. You, however, should know that in this case there is no difference whether you employ the term "cause" or "agens"; for if you take the term "cause" in the sense of a mere potentiality, it precedes its effect; but if you mean the cause in action, then the effect must necessarily co-exist with the cause in action. The same is the case with the agens; take it as an agens in reality, the work must necessarily co-exist with its agens. For the builder, before he builds the house, is not in reality a builder, but has the faculty for building a house-in the same way as the materials for the house before it is being built are merely in potentiâ--but when the house has been built, he is the builder in reality, and his product must likewise be in actual existence. Nothing is therefore gained by choosing the term "agens" and rejecting the term "cause." My object here is to show that these two terms are equal, and in the same
manner as we call God an Agens, although the work does not yet exist, only because there is no hindrance or obstacle which might prevent Him from doing it whenever He pleases, we may also call Him the Cause, although the effect may not yet be in existence.
The reason why the philosophers called God the Cause, and did not call Him the Agens, is not to be sought in their belief that the universe is eternal, but in other motives, which I will briefly describe to you. It has been shown in the science of Physics that everything, except the Primal Cause, owes its origin to the following four causes:--the substance, the form, the agens, the final cause. These are sometimes direct, sometimes indirect causes; but each by itself is called "a cause." They also believe--and I do not differ from their opinion--that God Himself is the agens, the form, and the end: therefore they call God "the Cause," in order to express that He unites in Himself these three causes, viz., that He is the agens, the form, and the final cause of the universe. In the present chapter I only wish to show you in what sense it may be said of God that He is the agens, the form, and also the final cause of the universe. You need not trouble yourself now with the question whether the universe has been created by God, or whether, as the philosophers have assumed, it is eternal, co-existing with Him. You will find [in the pages of this treatise] full and instructive information on the subject. Here I wish to show that God is the "cause" of every event that takes place in the world, just as He is the Creator of the whole universe as it now exists. It has already been explained in the science of Physics, that a cause must again be sought for each of the four divisions of causes. When we have found for any existing thing those four causes which are in immediate connexion with it, we find for these again causes, and for these again other causes, and so on until we arrive at the first causes. E.g., a certain production has its agens, this agens again has its agens, and so on and on until at last we arrive at a first agens, which is the true agens throughout all the intervening links. If the letter aleph be moved by bet, bet by gimel, gimel by dalet, and dalet by hé--and as the series does not extend to infinity, let us stop at hé--there is no doubt that the hé moves the letters aleph, bet, gimel, and dalet, and we say correctly that the aleph is moved by hé. In that sense everything occurring in the universe, although directly produced by certain nearer causes, is ascribed to the Creator, as we shall explain. He is the Agens, and He is therefore the ultimate cause. We shall also find, after careful examination, that every physical and transient form must be preceded by another such form, by which the substance has been fitted to receive the next form: the previous form again has been preceded by another, and we arrive at length at that form which is necessary for the existence of all intermediate forms, which are the causes of the present form. That form to which the forms of all existing things are traced is God. You must not imagine that when we say that God is the first form of all forms existing in the Universe, we refer to that first form which Aristotle, in the Book of Metaphysics, describes as being without beginning and without end, for he treats of a form which is a physical, and not a purely intellectual one. When we call God the ultimate form of the universe, we do not use this term in the sense of form connected with substance, namely, as the form of that substance, as though God were the form of a material being. It is not in this
sense that we use it, but in the following: Everything existing and endowed with a form, is whatever it is through its form, and when that form is destroyed its whole existence terminates and is obliterated. The same is the case as regards the relation between God and all distant causes of existing beings: it is through the existence of God that all things exist, and it is He who maintains their existence by that process which is called emanation (in Hebrew shepha’), as will be explained in one of the chapters of the present work. If God did not exist, suppose this were possible, the universe would not exist, and there would be an end to the existence of the distant causes, the final effects, and the intermediate causes. Consequently God maintains the same relation to the world as the form has to a thing endowed with a form: through the form it is what it is, and on it the reality and essence of the thing depends. In this sense we may say that God is the ultimate form, that He is the form of all forms: that is to say, the existence and continuance of all forms in the last instance depend on Him, the forms are maintained by Him, in the same way as all things endowed with forms retain their existence through their forms. On that account God is called, in the sacred language, ḥe ha-‘olamim, "the life of the Universe," as will be explained (chap. lxxii.). The same argument holds good in reference to all final causes. If you assign to a thing a certain purpose, you can find for that purpose another purpose. We mention, e.g., a (wooden) chair; its substance is wood, the joiner is its agens, the square its form, and its purpose is that one should sit upon it. You may then ask, For what purpose does one sit upon it? The answer will be that he who is sitting upon it desires to be high above the ground. If again you ask, For what purpose does he desire to be high above the ground, you will receive the answer that he wishes to appear high in the eyes of those who see him. For what purpose does he wish to appear higher in the eyes of those who see him? That the people may respect and fear him. What is the good of his being feared? His commands will be respected. For what purpose are his commands to be respected? That people shall refrain from injuring each other. What is the object of this precaution? To maintain order amongst the people. In this way one purpose necessitates the pre-existence of another, except the final purpose, which is the execution of the will of God, according to one of the opinions which have been propounded, as will be explained (III. xiii. and xvii.), and the final answer will be, "It is the will of God." According to the view of others, which will likewise be explained, the final purpose is the execution of the decree of His wisdom, and the final answer will be, "It has been decreed by His wisdom." According to either opinion, the series of the successive purposes terminates, as has been shown, in God's will or wisdom, which, in our opinion, are identical with His essence, and are not any thing separate from Himself or different from His essence. Consequently, God is the final purpose of everything. Again, it is the aim of everything to become, according to its faculties, similar to God in perfection: this is meant by the expression, "His will, which is identical with His essence," as will be shown below (ibid.). In this sense God is called the End of all ends.
I have thus explained to you in what sense God is said to be the Agens, the Form, and the End. This is the reason why the philosophers not only call
[paragraph continues] Him "the Maker" but also the "Cause." Some of the scholars belonging to the Mutakallemim (Mohammedan theologians), went so far in their folly and in their vainglory as to say that the non-existence of the Creator, if that were possible, would not necessarily imply the non-existence of the things created by Him, i.e., the Universe: for a production need not necessarily cease to exist when the producer, after having produced it, has ceased to exist. They would be right, if God were only the maker of the Universe, and if its permanent existence were not dependent on Him. The storehouse does not cease to exist at the death of the builder; for he does not give permanent existence to the building. God, however, is Himself the form of the Universe, as we have already shown, and it is He who causes its continuance and permanency. It is therefore wrong to say that a thing can remain durable and permanent, after the being that makes it durable and permanent has ceased to exist, since that thing can possess no more durability and permanency than it has received from that being. Now you understand the greatness of the error into which they have fallen through their assumption that God is only the Agens, and not the End or the Form.